VTA backs Victorian isolation move and free RATs


Victoria comes into line with NSW on close-contact rule

VTA backs Victorian isolation move and free RATs
The Victorian government has recognised freight workers as essential

 

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has welcomed Commonwealth and Victorian government changes to close contact rules that would enable asymptomatic close COVID contacts in critical industries to return to work.

To address a growing shortage of workers in supply chains across the country, prime minister Scott Morrison has flagged that workers in supermarkets, distribution centres, transport and other critical industries would be exempt from isolation if they were a close contact and had returned a negative COVID test result.

In Victoria, under new pandemic orders coming into place at 11:59pm on January 12, affected workers in key sectors including food logistics who are already required to be fully vaccinated must get their third dose before being permitted to work onsite.  

"Workplaces must sight and record proof of vaccination," the announcement stated.

‘Workers eligible for a third dose on or before Wednesday 12 January will have until Saturday 12 February to get their vital third dose. Workers not yet eligible for a third dose will be required to get it within three months and two weeks of the deadline to receive their second mandatory dose."

It added: "Food distribution workers includes manufacturing, warehousing and transport (freight/port) workers involved in food distribution. Retail supermarket staff are not included in the mandate."

The mandatory vaccination requirement will not apply to workers who have a valid medical exemption.

The Victorian change echoes the New South Wales move announced by that state’s health department.

VTA CEO Peter Anderson welcomed the announcement and urged states and territories to immediately adopt the changes to prevent further supply chain disruptions.

Victoria has already exempted close contact transport workers from isolation requirements provided they return a negative rapid antigen test every day for five days.

Anderson also reiterated the association’s calls for free rapid antigen tests for transport workers.

"If a critical service worker is identified as a close COVID contact but returns a negative test result, there is no reason they shouldn’t be permitted to return to work, so we welcome this variation to the rules and encourage the states and territories to adopt it immediately," Anderson said.

"This should include those that have had and recovered from Covid, and have since returned a negative test result.

"While the Victorian government is to be commended for being the first to abolish isolation requirements for close contact transport workers, its additional requirement that they be tested every day for five days with a RAT presents its own challenges.

"The freight industry has experienced the same problems finding rapid tests as everyone else and where they are a legal requirement of government to work – such as in Victoria – rapid tests should be made readily available for free."

Rapid antigen testing is likely to be a condition for close contacts to return to work in other jurisdictions and where this is the case it is the VTA’s position that governments should be supplying the tests at no charge.

Anderson said the VTA had been advocating for rapid tests (RATs) to replace PCR testing for months as a less intrusive form of testing for freight workers.

"Interstate heavy vehicle drivers have been testing up to three times a week for many months as a condition of maintaining their border crossing permits and we welcome the conversion to rapid tests across many jurisdictions," he added.

"But with supply chains on the brink of collapse and rapid tests not readily available, it is incumbent on any government that mandates rapid tests as a condition of working that they supply them free of charge – just as they have been doing with PCR tests for many months."


RELATED ARTICLE: Union says freight workers at higher risk of spreading COVID


The VTA position is likely to be opposed by the Transport Workers Union (TWU), given its negative reaction to the NSW move.

Not so the VTA’s position on RATs.

Last week, it pointed out that supply chains are under significant pressure, with large logistics operators reporting up to half their workforce absent amid testing delays and the inability of workers to secure rapid antigen tests (RATs).

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said reports of empty supermarket shelves across Australia was a predictable outcome of the government's failure to prioritise rapid tests for the country's most mobile workforce.

The union said it had been told by large transport operators working out of major Australia ports that between a third and half of their workforce are missing each day.

"The TWU wrote to the Prime Minister in October urging the government to provide rapid tests to road transport workers to avoid unnecessary delays and keep drivers on the road," Kaine said.

"Instead, we have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies – but they, like most Australians, can't access them themselves."

 

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